As the country enters the 2012 campaign season, the press and prospective Republican nominees are drawing increasing attention to President Obama’s record. An NBC News poll released last week showed that 74 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, the highest number since before the 2008 election. According to the Gallup Presidential Job Approval website, Mr. Obama has the second-lowest approval rating at this point in his presidency of any holder of the high office since 1945. Only Jimmy Carter’s numbers were worse.
None of this apparently has anything to do with Mr. Obama. On Tuesday, he admitted to ABC News that “the economy is not where it wants to be” and “we’re still going through difficult circumstances” but nevertheless said, “I believe all the choices we’ve made have been the right ones.” Call it the doctrine of presidential infallibility.
There have been moments in his first term when Mr. Obama came close to admitting some flaws, but they were always couched in the sort of terms used by the job applicant who says his major shortcoming is caring too much about his work. In January 2010, after Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts, in which he picked off Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat, Mr. Obama claimed his only regret was having been so focused he lost touch with the public mood. “That I do think is a mistake of mine,” he said, but added that people were frustrated “not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.” In other words, the buck stops with George W. Bush.
In October 2010, it began to look as if the midterm congressional elections would be a harsh referendum on his policies. Mr. Obama explained, “There is probably a perverse pride in my administration - and I take responsibility for this - that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular.” The “shellacking” his party received the next month proved just how unpopular his policies were. But while Mr. Obama said the no-confidence vote was “humbling,” he admitted no culpability for it. The humbling imparted no humility.
Democrats argue that as bad as things are in the country, they could be worse. Earlier this month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, claimed that without the 2009 economic-stimulus plan, unemployment would be 14.5 percent, a ludicrous claim not even asserted by the cheerleaders of the original nearly-trillion-dollar stimulus plan.
At times, Mr. Obama’s stubborn insistence on his own perfection seems at odds with reality even to his own appointees. Last Friday, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the administration would not proceed with implementing the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, a major Obamacare program, because there was no way it could be financially solvent. On Monday, the White House came out strongly against repealing the very act HHS says is too dysfunctional to implement. To do so would be to admit an error, and this is something Mr. Obama doesn’t do.
The central theme of the Obama 2012 campaign seems to be shaping up as: Yes, times are bad, but they could be much worse. Besides, it’s not often you get to vote for Mr. Perfect.